Latina mothers' perceptions about their children's reading-related learning disabilities

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Canevaro, Ana M.

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A descriptive study of Latina mothers’ perceptions of their children’s reading-related learning disabilities and of their home literacy practices was conducted. How the mothers’ perceptions influenced their involvement in the special education process was also examined. The participants were eight mothers of English Language Learners served in three elementary bilingual special education classrooms in a large urban school district in Texas. The researcher conducted three open-ended interviews with the mothers and then analyzed the data using a modified grounded theory approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) to identify themes. The participants focused the interviews on their children’s language and reading difficulties, which they described as “learning problems” but not as “learning disabilities”. To them, the term disability connoted severe, visibly identified, or permanent conditions such as mental retardation or mental illness. They expected their children to overcome their reading problems because they were being served in what mothers called “special classes” rather than “special education”. In general, the mothers did not seem to understand the deliberations of the Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) committee, the group that determined special education eligibility. Even though the mothers had attended the initial ARD meeting and had given their consent to place their child in a bilingual special education program, they did not seem to understand the significance of this decision. The mothers reported that they had sufficient access to literacy materials, and that these typically came from the school or community library or from church. They described a variety of family literacy practices, including the mothers reading and or listening to their younger children and assisting them with homework. However, siblings worked with older children when Spanish materials were beyond the mothers’ literacy levels, the assignments were too difficult, or the texts or assignments were in English. In addition to cultural differences in perceptions of disability, language barriers contributed to breakdowns in communication between families and educators. The findings suggest a need for more research on how to effectively involve Spanish-speaking parents in special education decision-making and service delivery.